Why I hate Texas Hold ’em

My colleague Tye Smith wrote a column a while back titled “Why I hate the NHL.” As a former hockey player, I held my tongue, quietly seething at his Utahn ignorance.

Then Tye, who is a perfectly intelligent and capable person despite being a rampant Utahn, informed me that he might like to be a professional poker writer. So I decided to take a cheap shot at poker. I’m mean, and I want to crush his dreams.

No, it’s not actually because I’m mean. I’m sick of poker seemingly being on 24 hours a day. I’m sick of loudmouths like Phil Hellmuth making bank off their marketable personalities. I’m sick of people who still play poker.

You see, I’ve spent at least 3,000 hours of my life playing Texas Hold ’em. When I lived in the dorms at SUNY Albany in New York, we literally spent about six hours a night playing poker in the hallways (smoking cigarettes all the while, if you U dormies can believe it).

My friends and I redistributed our meager funds amongst ourselves all day. We’re talking more market activity than NYSE, with about $1,000 involved overall.

I read poker books and didn’t tell anybody. I watched “Rounders” about a hundred times. I sat at my computer and shuffled out thousands of mock hands with a Newport dangling out of my mouth. The school could have shut down, I wouldn’t have known-I didn’t see the sun for months.

I became a decent low-stakes amateur poker player. At the time, that description fit about 1/1000th of the population. A much higher percentage than that played poker. Know what I mean?

I began to live the lifestyle of a poor man’s Teddy KGB. The basement of my dorm had multiple tables seating about six people each, with most people buying about $20 in chips. I won a high enough percentage of these games to support my poker-related habits-which is more than most could say at the time (a pack of cigs, a chicken parm hero from Paesan’s, a liter of orange soda, a sixer of Busch and something for my glaucoma were all necessary provisions each night).

Incidents were few and far between, since everybody was too competitive with their own friends to ever consider cheating. A crazed druggie swept away $200 in chips that my friend Jed and I were playing for once. That was about it. There was no great drama, no leaping across the table (like in those annoying “Tilt” previews), we were just all so absorbed in beating each other. That was enough for us.

These days, the world of poker has drifted into two extremes: the media’s image of poker (Tilt and the absurd marketing of poker stars as comic book- like characters), and the harsh realities of poker’s inevitable failure as a popular sport.

Doyle Brunson’s infamous “Super System” cost $100 upon release, because he didn’t want everyday people knowing his secrets. Nowadays, everybody knows the “correct way” to play winning poker.

Which makes it really hard to enjoy poker unless you’ve been playing against competent players for a long time. Or if you can afford to take lessons from them, like Ben Affleck did with Annie Lederer (Affleck/Lederer sounds like the lead presidential ticket in hell).

ESPN’s broadcasts and online poker have conspired to drain the game of all interpersonal contention-presenting it as a simple contest of numbers. The key to winning, without the traditionally captivating displays of pride between friends at the table, is outlasting everybody else.

Prescription amphetamines were forbidden amongst my friends at the table, where we considered Adderall a more condemning performance enhancer than anabolic steroids. Anybody intelligent enough to draw a connection between the concentration enhancement of the drug and the tiresome game of sensible poker can see the effect of its application on the game.

Yet it is almost an essential component of today’s game. How do I know?

They’d be stupid not to use it. If I had a million dollars on the line, I’d pop one right now.

And I know for a fact that a number of amateur players use Adderall regularly for games, particularly online games.

Playing online Texas Hold’em is essentially no different from playing the stock market. Those who exceed at this pursuit have perfected the art of having less of a life than everybody else they’re playing against.

Even in person, the entertainment value of play variety is often easily outlasted by frustration at the duration of the games.

Pretty soon poker will become a novel form of “Robot Wars,” in which teams of MIT rocket scientists will compete to create the first self-propelling nuclear fission reactor, which will charge itself for the remainder of time.

It should make one hell of a poker player.

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